Duo chat about the challenges of Formula E, driver-engineer relationship and more
Ahead of Season 10 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, Nissan Formula E Team driver Sacha Fenestraz and his race engineer Johann Aime reflect on their maiden season in the sport. The two rookies first met a year ago when they were paired together for their debut in Fomula E, heading on a journey into unknown territory for both, and coming out the other side with some highs, lows, and lessons from the season.
Image Credit: Spacesuit-Media-Adam-Pigott & Shiv-Gohil
Q1: What were the first few sessions like together?
Sacha: “I was a bit scared! We did pre-season testing together in Spain, beforehand I didn’t know it would be Johann but I had an idea. The test went really well, but Jojo wasn’t looking at his laptop that much, which confused me a bit! He then told me the laptop wasn’t working very well so then I understood what was going on!”
Johann: “I’d only been with the team for about a week, my laptop was being slow and not working so well with the data software, but I was doing everything else possible to help Sacha! It was a good week as we learned to work together, we built a strong connection from very early on.”
Q2: How important is it to have a good engineer-driver relationship off the track?
Sacha: “I think it’s vital. The relationship away from the track is as important because you are so close while at the circuit, sharing information and spending a lot of time together, so you really need a strong base of trust, both ways. I’m always trying to be as honest as possible, building Johann’s confidence from the first day to start developing and growing that relationship.”
Johann: “I agree, I think it’s important to have that bond to believe in each other, and to allow the other to do their job with 100% motivation and focus. If the relationship is not good between driver and engineer, neither side extracts the most out of each other.”
Q3: What were the most challenging moments of your debut season together?
Johann: “The first race of the season in Mexico was obviously the most challenging moment of the year.”
Sacha: “I would love to review the radio communication, I was lost, didn’t know what to do!”
Johann: “Me too! That’s the funny thing, you were lost in the car because I was lost in the pits. Everybody was talking to me, telling me Sacha needed to consume less energy. I told Sacha and he asked how he should do it – it was tough for both of us.”
Sacha: “It was a good lesson. It was especially challenging because we were both learning. For me, the hardest moment of the season was losing the Cape Town podium on the last lap. I think we definitely would’ve held on to it and in Formula E you need to make the most of each opportunity, because being fast one day doesn’t mean you’ll be fast the next.”
Q4: What was the best moment working together this year?
Sacha: “On the engineering side maybe it’s a bit different, but for me it was the Cape Town pole, it meant more to me than Monaco qualifying so I would say that one.”
Johann: “I’m going for Monaco because the circuit is so special. I hadn’t been in Monaco for several years, it brought back some memories for me. It’s about the atmosphere, the track, it’s just Monaco. From the engineer’s point of view, Cape Town was more of a driver performance and Monaco more of a team effort. Also, we had Norman with us at the front of the grid, making it a great session for the whole team.”
Q5: Are you pleased with the progress you’ve made together this season?
Johann: “Being totally honest, I would say yes and no. We started on a strong baseline purely from Sacha’s pace over one lap but in the second half of the season we didn’t make the progress we wanted to. So yes, as we started from a long way back and improved quickly to be challengers from Cape Town onwards; but also no, because after that race and missing out on the podium it was a bit more difficult to continue advancing.”
Sacha: “I’m happy with our progress, I agree with Jojo on the Cape Town situation. We had a great weekend there and we were competitive, but following that event we didn’t develop as much as before. However, there was progression throughout the season. Obviously we made mistakes, we’re still learning the championship and getting used to several things.”
Q6: What will you look to improve on next season and do you have any targets for Season 10?
Johann: “It’s quite easy, I would say the target for Season 10 is to win a race. We’ll look to improve our consistency, we know Sacha is capable of pole position and strong qualifying results. We’re getting more experienced with the race runs so we just have to find our groove and the results will come.”
Sacha: “I’ve not got a lot to add, I totally agree that the consistency is number one for us. From then, the good results will come automatically. Creating a trust with the car and knowing what to expect is so important, regular top five finishes is our target.”
Q7: Will you work together during the off-season and what will you do?
Sacha: “During the off-season we have a lot of work to do to analyze what happened this year. We’ve had many back-to-back races and plenty of information to take in. On my side I also need to look at where I can step up, there are always improvements to make as a driver. Energy management is definitely something we will be looking at together.”
Johann: “Sounds like a plan!”
Q8: How do you communicate with each other throughout the weekend?
Johann: “Obviously we talk a lot. The driver’s feeling is worth more than all the data we have. Everything is done so Sacha can be as comfortable as possible with the car before he gets in, so we spend a lot of time discussing about what will happen in the upcoming session, going over scenarios and gameplans. It requires a lot of communication, so yeah, we speak a lot!”
Sacha: “In Mexico, I asked him to shut up and then talk to me as he wasn’t saying enough!”
Johann: “No that wasn’t Mexico, that was Diriyah! It was about 30 seconds between the two instructions – I’ve worked with so many drivers and they all have different requirements. It’s difficult to figure out their needs early on, we often say it takes about half a season to understand each other, depending on the situation.”
Sacha: “To come back to the question, I think that communication is extremely important, and it’s not much of a problem for us now. We’ve learned a lot on how to speak with each other properly this season. We sit down together, listen to the radio exchanges and explain what we could have done differently, analyzing each situation. It’s a huge advantage to have good communication, there will always be difficult moments but I think we are nearly there.”
Johann: “I agree. We’re not perfect but we learned quickly together. From Hyderabad onwards our communication and how we understood each other was good. There are still bits to work on, but that’s normal.”
Q9: How did you support each other with the adaptation to Formula E?
Sacha: “I think I know how he’s going to answer! It’s something we’re still improving on, we are still learning as a duo. For example, in Rome we complicated everything over the radio, we were talking too much and this is something we have to work on together. Certain things we speak about will change next year, I’ll be dealing with some of them a bit more by myself.”
Johann: “The number one most important thing is communication and also honesty. If you’re not being honest then communication is pointless. So if there is something I am doing wrong, I want Sacha to come and tell me, we need to speak about both the good and bad parts to improve together. We also have to listen and take on board what each other say, which I believe we did well in our first season together. Having a rookie driver and a rookie engineer is a challenge, but we made it work to the best of our abilities.”
Q10: What was the biggest challenge for you both of moving to Formula E?
Johann: “There are many challenges as an engineer going to Formula E. One of the main aspects was the complexity of the systems on the car. They’re also very tough to learn, which makes it even more difficult. Secondly, it takes some time to adapt to being part of such a big team. It’s difficult as a race engineer, because you are the link between the driver and the team. These took a big of getting used to, but we worked on it as a team and developed throughout the season.”
Sacha: “As a driver you have no choice but to adapt quickly. The biggest challenge was on the energy management side, which was totally new for me. It’s very different to the previous series I raced in.”
Q11: What is your favorite anecdote of each other?
Sacha: “I think the best story was when I shouted so loud into the radio, Jojo had to go to the doctor to check his ears and there was actually something wrong. I think it was when I got angry in Hyderabad after being taken out of the race. They even posted it on the Formula E social media and I didn’t recognize myself!”
Johann: “The doctor confirmed I had water all around the inside of the ear thanks to Sacha!”
Sacha: “The second one would be when I touched the wall in qualifying in Cape Town, I told him the car was damaged but then we ended up taking pole. I think that was one of the best radio exchanges of the season.”
Johann: “If I could quote Sacha in one line I think it would be ‘Jojo, talk to me!’ He would ask me for information but then if I spoke at the wrong moment he would tell me to be quiet again!”
Sacha and Johann will be back in action together during pre-season testing at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia on 23-27 October, ahead of Season 10’s opening race in Mexico City on 13 January 2024.
About Nissan in Formula E
Nissan made its all-electric racing debut in Season 5 (2018/19) of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship, becoming the first and only Japanese manufacturer to enter the series.
In Season 7 (2020/21), Nissan announced its long-term involvement in Formula E and its commitment to the Gen3 era, which will run from Season 9 (2022/23) through to the end of Season 12 (2025/26) of the all-electric racing series.
In April 2022, Nissan acquired the e.dams race team, with the Japanese automaker taking full ownership of its involvement in the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.
In June 2022, Nissan announced it would supply its Nissan EV powertrain technology to McLaren Racing for the entirety of the Formula E Gen3 era.
For Season 10 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, the Nissan Formula E drivers will be Oliver Rowland and Sacha Fenestraz.
Nissan races in Formula E to bring the excitement and fun of zero-emission electric vehicles to a global audience. As part of its goal to achieve carbon neutrality across its operations and the life cycle of its products by 2050, Nissan intends to electrify every all-new vehicle offering by the early 2030s in key markets. The Japanese automaker aims to bring its expertise in transferring knowledge and technology between the racetrack and road for better electric vehicles for customers.
About Formula E
The ABB FIA Formula E World Championship became the first global sport to be certified with a net zero carbon footprint from inception back in 2020, having invested in certified climate-protecting projects in all race markets to offset emissions from every season of electric racing.
All cars in the championship are powered by electricity, with the series acting as a competitive platform to test and develop the latest in electric technology.
The World’s greatest manufacturers race against each other on street circuits and Formula E promotes the adoption of sustainable mobility in city centres in a bid to combat air pollution and lessen the effects of climate change.